Friday, 15 February 2013

Henry VIII as Robin Hood.

The occasion of Valentine's day, yesterday, coincides well with this amusing snippet I just found in a book I am reading. It conjures an image of Robin Hood not as Errol Flynn in the classical film version of the story, but of Henry VIII and a bunch of his 'merry' men gallivanting in green stockings and feathered hats to entertain his queen. This account reveals the character of the youthful Henry, in love with his Spanish queen and eager to impress her.

Married life enthralled Henry VIII - at least at his early stage in his reign. In the halcyon weeks that followed his crowning, he wrote enthusiastic letters to his father-in-law Ferdinand describing his joyful and enchanted life with Katherine. These were happy, carefree salad days, spent in quest of boundless regal pleasure - whilst the king's ministers ran the country, as they had done for his father. A profound love for Katherine had blossomed unexpectedly in his teenage heart. He wrote promising that the enduring bond between him and his bride was 'now so strict that all their interests are common. The love I bear Katherine is such that if I were free, I would choose her in preference to all others.'
Possibly because of the plague that was raging in some parts of England, Henry kept Christmas isolated at Richmond, with forty shillings paid to the children of the Chapel Royal for singing Gloria in Excelsis and £10 to William Wynnesbury as 'Lord of Misrule', who presided over the full gamut of noisy revelry. The festivities continued until Twelfth Night (probably then the evening of 5 January), with a play staged in the great hall, but for the king, the merrymaking continued. 
On 12 January 1510 Henry took part incognito in a private joust in Richmond Park together with Compton, who was also in disguise. This was the first time he had jousted as king and despite his efforts his presence was an open secret. Disaster followed. Edward Neville, one of Henry's cronies, ran a course against Crompton and 'hurt him sore and [he] was likely to die'. There was panic amongst the spectators that the injured contestant was Henry, but when the visor of Crompton's helmet was raised, 'one person that was there knew the king and cried 'God Save the King!' [and] with that all the people were astonished. Then the king discovered [revealed] himself to the great comfort of the people.'
Unabashed by this accident, Henry decided to take on the persona of Robin Hood in a merry jape to entertain the heavily pregnant queen. After Christmas, the court returned to Westminster and one morning the king and eleven of his nobles, all disguised as Sherwood Forest outlaws, burst suddenly into the queen's chamber, dressed in 'short coats of Kentish kendal with hoods on their heads and hose of the same. Everyone of them, his bow and arrows, and a sword and buckler ...[like] Robin Hood's men. Whereof the queen, the ladies and all others there were abashed ...for the strange sight [and] also their sudden coming. After certain dances and pastime made, they departed.'
Walter Crane painting Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne (1912)

 Perhaps the king tried to make amends to Katherine for his earlier Robin Hood prank. On Shrove Tuesday - the last day before Lenten fast - Henry threw an elaborately arranged banquet in the queen's honour for the foreign ambassadors in the Parliament Chamber in Westminster. Amid polite applause, Henry personally led Katherine to his own regal seat beneath the golden cloth of estate canopy at the top table. The guests were 'marshalled by the king, who would not sit, but walked from place to place, making cheer to the queen and the strangers.'

Suddenly the king disappeared and then re-entered the banquet with Henry Bourchier, Earl of Essex. Both were dressed in the Turkish fashion, wearing long robes of baudekin (a rich figured silk) powdered with gold, and crimson velvet hats, and each armed with broad-bladed Middle-Eastern scimitar swords. The King's young friends followed, dressed in the Russian and Prussian styles, escorted by torchbearers in crimson satin, their faces blackened with soot to resemble Moors. All then took part in a 'mummery' - a silent play or dance to music. 'So the king made great cheer to the queen, ladies and the ambassadors,' reported Edward Hall. 

There is no evidence to indicate what was Katherine's reaction to Henry's pranks. But it illustrates a side of the youthful Henry most people are not aware of, since we tend to see him as the later bloated king moving from one wife to another. Henry and Katherine were married for almost 24 years. Even before this, they had known each other for almost a decade, and Henry’s decision to marry her was one of his first acts as king in 1509. They shared a similar education and a love for court entertainment and learning. But, somewhere between the private tragedy of miscarriages and stillbirths and the public political and dynastic ambitions of Henry VIII, their marriage failed.

Sources: Robert Hutchinson, Young Henry.

Katherine of Aragon